George Square, University of Edinburgh
From Richard Anderson on May 20th, 2021
George Square (general)
George Square is at the heart of the University of Edinburgh’s central campus. Laid out in the eighteenth century, during the 1940s plans were made to rebuild the square completely with new stripped-classical university buildings. A subsequent masterplan by Basil Spence proposed a more picturesque arrangement of connected courtyard buildings around the perimeter of the square, and the retention of the historic houses on the west side of the square. A version of this plan was partly implemented in the 1960s, with the south side being rebuilt, along with parts of the north and east sides.
40 George Square (David Hume Tower)
The 1950s masterplans for George Square included two towers: one for first-year Science, and another for the Arts, as vertical accents on the skyline. The Arts Tower – subsequently known as David Hume Tower and now as 40 George Square – was designed, like several of its neighbouring buildings, by RMJM, the practice headed by Robert Matthew, one of Scotland’s leading post-war Modernists. Completed in the mid-1960s, Matthew’s aim here was a ‘Scottish’ modern architecture, hence the use of stone and slate. The buildings sit on a raised pedestrian podium which originally was intended to extend further into the surrounding area. The full scheme was never realised, but the result – listed Category A – is a tantalising fragment of 1960s urbanism.
The University Library was designed by Spence Glover Ferguson, with significant input from the University Librarian. It opened in 1967 and is listed at Category A as one of the best works of 1960s Scottish architecture. Externally, a consistent rhythm of horizontal galleries breaks down the bulk of the building, with some mannered (and largely unnecessary) ‘constructional’ details on view. Inside, bespoke fittings originally were used. When completed, the library was one of the biggest in Britain and continues to function well in its original use.
Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre, George Square
The Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre is one of several buildings on the south-west corner of George Square designed in the early 1960s by RMJM. The theatre has a sublime concrete cantilever which projects boldly above the street to the rear, offering a dramatic interpretation of what might be considered ‘brutalism’. It has been renamed after Gordon Aikman, a charity campaigner who died from motor neurone disease at the age of 31.Alistair Fair, University of Edinburgh